My Secret Life: Marina Abramovic, performance artist, 63

My parents were ... partisans during the war. My father became a judge but he never lost his impulsive nature, he was incredibly open. My mother was the Director of the Museum of the Revolution and Art in Belgrade and was a real neurotic – she would make my school friends wear surgical masks when they came to our flat.

The house/flat I grew up in ... was a large flat in Communist Belgrade. My father's war record meant that we were given a very large flat: it was all parquet floors and stucco ceilings. I had my studio where I would paint.

When I was a child I wanted to ... write poetry. I lived in a world of dreams.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would change my nose; I always wanted Brigitte Bardot's nose.

You wouldn't know it but I'm no good at ... controlling my emotions; I'm a Slav, after all.

At night I dream of ... I used to have a recurring dream where I was at a party in a country house, surrounded by the same people each evening. Everyone would be singing and dancing and after a while I came to know the people; though, of course, they never really existed.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... At different times I see different things. Sometimes I see a 14-year-old girl who's never really grown up; sometimes I just see myself, a lonely artist in a hotel room.

I wish I'd never worn ... the paediatric shoes that the doctor gave me for my flat feet. They were hideous flat boots covered in metal. I looked very odd.

I drive ... a seven-seat Jeep Commander.

My house is ... a big old loft in SoHo, New York. It has 17 windows and the light streams through at all times of the day.

My favourite work of art ... is non-material art. I don't like material work: ideas should be able to live.

My favourite building ... is the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It has this spiral energy about it; you can tell it was built to house work with real spirit.

My secret crush is ... is Marlon Brando. He had an air of loneliness about him, like he was separate from the rest of the world – I like that.

Movie heaven ... is an Armenian film called The Colour of Pomegranates where the lead actress, Sofiko Chiaureli, plays six different roles.

A book that changed me ... is The Tao of Physics which explores the parallels between physics and mysticism.

My greatest regret ... is that I could never sing as well as I would have liked.

My real-life villains ... I don't have any. I always look for the light of goodness flickering in people.

The person who really makes me laugh ... is Charlie Chaplin when he plays Hitler.

The last time I cried ... was two days ago at an exhibition of Richard Serra's work at the Whitney Museum in New York.

My five-year plan ... is to develop my foundation, The Marina Abramovic Foundation for Preservation of Performance. I want to leave a tangible legacy behind me, something that endures when I'm gone.

What's the point? Live life consciously and die consciously, that is the point.

My life in six words ... work, work, work, work, work, work.

A life in brief

Marina Abramovic was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, on 30 November, 1946. Describing herself as the "grandmother of performance art", her career has spanned more than four decades and she is widely seen as the foremost performance artist of her generation. She divides her time between a loft in SoHo, New York and a house in upstate New York. Marina will be speaking today at Tate Modern (sold out) and her work is showing at Lisson Gallery until 13 November. See